Tales of Woe
by John Reed
Anyone watching MTV during the late 1990s will remember Daria, the sardonic animated show about high school in suburban America. They will probably also recall the show-within-a-show, Sick, Sad World, which focused on the tragic and the weird. As a reminder, here are a couple of the lead stories from the show:
"Death wore velvety green. Homicidal house plants, next on Sick, Sad World."
"Are microbes having sex in your drinking water? H-2-aooh! next, on Sick, Sad World."
Tales of Woe – amusingly, printed by MTV Press – is Sick, Sad World put to paper. It features stories of the macabre, the tragic, and the horrible. The short snippets of true crime, accidents and misfortunes are all true, according to my spot-checking with Google. (John Reed did not include any information about his source material.) Whether it’s the discovery of a dead Chinese sex slave in the back of a Ford Escort or a man crushed to death by the pin-clearing machine at a bowling alley, this collection has no happy endings, only victims who were often guilty of only being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The stories are presented somewhat choppily. Reed favors short sentences and fragments in his journalistic approach to each tale of woe, but sometimes the end result is very oddly constructed. Ephemera – explanations of unfamiliar terms, fragments of letters, “death” prayers – are scattered throughout the stories, sometimes interrupting the main narrative. At other times, the ephemera close the story, providing an ending that feels unfinished. Most of the time, these extras didn’t add much to the book.
What does add to the book are the brightly colored illustrations, created in the style of 1930s and 1940s comic books. Each story has an accompanying picture, and it is always explicit and unsettling. In all, eleven artists collaborated with John Reed to create the final product.
One disappointing note: The book was sloppily edited. There are several instances of misspelled words, and inconsistencies with name usage throughout. (One sentence will refer to a woman by her first name; the next will use Ms. Last-Name with no rhyme or reason to it.) It’s a pity, because the book is otherwise a handsome tome. If you want to be reminded just how sick and sad the world can be, you will probably enjoy this book. Just don’t go looking for a happy ending - you won’t find one in Tales of Woe.
One more note: If you have any easy triggers - rape, domestic abuse, etc. - or you're squeamish, DON'T READ THE BOOK. It's terrible, it's disgusting, and everything that happens is horribly wrong. You've been warned!
3.5 out of 5 stars
Seriously, did anyone else love Daria back in the day?